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Pros: Gorgeous exterior; sharp handling; plush ride; strong engine; world-class luxury; abundance of cutting-edge technology

Cons: Pricey; unorthodox styling may not sit well with some; low city fuel economy

Mercedes-Benz calls this sleek luxury tourer a four-door coupe. With that nomenclature comes a distinctive blend of sport and elegance, along with the executive-level comfort and amenities of a traditional high-end sedan.

For 2012, the CLS enjoys a complete redesign and a noticeable shift in personality. While keeping its graceful style and flowing lines, the CLS now takes on a more aggressive exterior to match its upgraded, more performance-oriented character. The CLS550 has been transformed into a luxury car for the driving enthusiast, complete with greater power and sharper dynamics. And that's even more the case with the ultra-high-performance AMG model, the CLS63. A high-quality cabin with new content, creature comforts and technology elevates the overall formula.

The CLS550 retains a coupelike presence with a sleek profile and a flowing fastback roofline, but it now shows off a balanced combination of elegance and poise with a serious dose of attitude. The new appearance begins with a more prominent grille and meaner-looking headlamps that are available in full LED treatment. Body creases are more deeply cut, giving the CLS the sculpted physique of a world-class sprinter. Further enhancing its sporting flavor are a longer hood and shorter overhangs. From all angles, the CLS's revamped styling telegraphs the car's newfound level of power and performance.

Comfort & Utility

The CLS has always had a well-appointed and exclusive interior, and the 2012 model improves on it. There is comfort and luxury at all four occupant positions, but now the driver's seat is more of a cockpit - and the clear focus of the passenger compartment - with optimized ergonomics, well-bolstered sport seating and a revised performance-style gauge cluster.

Among the long list of standard amenities are 14-way power heated and ventilated front seats with lumbar adjustments and memory, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and a 14-speaker premium audio system. Notable options include a heated steering wheel, massaging front seats, a power trunk closer, push-button start and a rear power sunshade.

The cabin setup acknowledges that the car is intended for both high-speed driving and low-profile touring, balancing comfort and performance. And the leather-laden interior is easy on the eyes, too.

Technology

Advanced electronics include voice-command navigation with real-time traffic, digital music storage, a USB interface, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera and Parktronic, which includes front and rear parking sensors and an automatic parking system..

Power and Performance

Perhaps the top news on the 2012 CLS550 is the arrival of a more powerful engine with less displacement than the outgoing unit. Last year's big 5.5-liter V8 is replaced by the smaller and lighter 4.6-liter twin-turbocharged V8 yielding 402 horsepower - up 20 hp from the 5.5-liter - and a super-stout 443 lb-ft of torque. With this much output at its disposal, some may wonder why an über-sport AMG model is even necessary. Then again, for serious enthusiasts and track hounds, there's no such thing as too much performance.

The CLS powertrain channels energy to the rear wheels by way of a very smooth and quick-shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox with manual mode. The resulting power delivery is robust with a satisfying surge of acceleration. And to sweeten the deal even more, the new CLS550 delivers better fuel economy than before. EPA estimates are 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.

Safety

The 2012 Mercedes gets standard ABS, traction control, stability control, front knee airbags and Mercedes mbrace emergency telematics. Standard driver assistance technologies include Attention Assist, which monitors the driver's alertness, and a PreSafe system, which makes split-second adjustments when an unavoidable accident has been sensed.

Options encompass an expanded suite of driver assistance and safety technologies including Distronic PLUS cruise control, Active Lane Keep Assist and Night View Assist with Pedestrian Detection. But one of the most groundbreaking highlights for the CLS is Adaptive Highbeam Assist. This camera-based system will automatically lower one or both headlight beams when it detects oncoming traffic.

Driving Impressions

Living up to its new outer persona, the 2012 CLS has shifted from a grand touring cruiser to a driving enthusiast's delight. Power and acceleration are in abundance, allowing the CLS550 to launch strongly from 0 mph or to perform an aggressive passing maneuver at high speed with confidence. That's even truer for the CLS63, the car's phenomenal 518-hp AMG counterpart.

High-speed handling and cornering abilities have been elevated to match the uptick in power. The CLS550 can take a fast turn with remarkable grip and minimal body roll. Adding to the driving dynamics is the car's new Electromechanical Direct Steer System. This engineering upgrade results in highly responsive steering that allows quick, precise changes in direction and makes the car feel smaller as it charges through tight curves and switchbacks. That said, the standard CLS is not ideal for the racetrack; the suspension has been tuned and braking has been calibrated for performance driving on normal roads.

When driven less assertively, the CLS retains its relaxed touring personality; it is still every bit as compliant and comfortable as ever for long drives and the daily commute. But it's good to know that if the urge for performance strikes, this car will deliver.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 5 Series - The BMW is known for its handling and dynamics, but the CLS550 is not far behind. And the Mercedes is more luxurious and better equipped with the latest driver assistance technology.

Audi A6 - The Audi and the Mercedes are both beautiful cars. Both offer a plush ride, but the Mercedes is a sharper handler. The CLS550 also brings more technology and innovation.

Cadillac CTS - The Cadillac boasts plenty of luxury and sporting character, but the Mercedes is more impressive on virtually all fronts: design, performance, technology, safety and comfort.

AutoTrader Recommends

For buyers in the luxury performance segment, the CLS550 offers an unprecedented combination of style, sophistication and strength. For those wanting to make a unique fashion statement while driving a world-class luxury sport sedan, this is, hands down, their car. The only choice to make is between the rear-wheel-drive CLS or the all-wheel-drive 4Matic model. The 4Matic is definitely the way to go for those living in colder climates.  

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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